What if I whispered to you, coat collar-up and standing within the shadows, that you could still buy a decent single malt whisky for £25? You’d maybe look at me like I was a madman, as if I’d endorsed David Icke for president. Or if I’d gone on to suggest that the Scotch Whisky Association was a sub-branch of the Illuminati; a cartel that fixed the price of good whisky at eye-watering levels in order to exclude the proletariat from enjoying the delights of a single malt. All of this is – of course – madness.
But my point is: good, cheap single malt is rare as hen’s teeth. Yet in 2016, it is possible to by good single malt for under £40. For under £30. For £25. And you can buy some of those affordable, decent single malt whiskies from Glen Moray distillery.
In Gaelic the name Glen Moray means ‘valley of the settlement by the loch’. The distillery was established in 1897 – in a rebuilt brewery on the banks of the River Lossie, on the western outskirts of Elgin – just before the whisky industry experienced a crash. Oops! But its stills were only ever silent from 1910 to 1923, when it was bought by Macdonald and Muir, who would then much later become part of Glenmorangie Plc. In 2008 the distillery was sold to La Martiniquaise, France’s second-biggest spirits group, who use much of the immense 3 million litres of spirit in their Label 5 blend. And for the most part, Glen Moray carries on with what it does without making much fuss.
Different whisky finishes are very much the flavour of the day in the modern industry. Side note for those not in the know: a finish is when whisky is moved from traditional bourbon or sherry casks and into something like a wine cask for up to a year. (Much longer and it’s more a double maturation.) This is to give an extra twist to the flavour profile and makes the spirit sing; or it hides blemishes in the whisky and conceals the impact of dodgy casks, depending on your inner-beliefs.
Glen Moray has actually had a long history of experimenting with different wine casks, way older than most. In 1999 they released three whiskies that had been finished in different French wine casks: an ex-Chardonnay and two ex-Chenin Blanc releases. Even in the 1970s it had been finishing whiskies in Port Pipes. Today I’m looking at two of their newer cask releases, both of which can be purchased for around £25. One is Glen Moray Port Cask Finish and the other is a 10 year old whisky entirely matured in Chardonnay casks.
Glen Moray 10 Year Old Chardonnay Cask
Colour: amber. On the nose: bright, fresh and clean. Orange. Grapefruit. Pear drops. A touch of extra virgin olive oil. Cream. Lemon zest. Traces of pineapple. Hay barns.
In the mouth: quite a good amount of flavour for the ABV. Again a very crisp, clean whisky – the Chardonnay influence is very ingrained with this. Grapefruit. Lemon-balm. Pineapple. There’s a grassiness and just a gentle malted quality. Ever so slight bit of bitterness from the oak, but it’s not warming and it’s not peppery. A little bit of vanilla. Buttery pastry. Warm apple pie. It’s a spring-like whisky, to be sipped outdoors, rather than inside brooding by a winter fire. Light fresh, simple, but executed well.
Glen Moray Classic Port Cask Finish
Colour: pale gold, but with a hint of peach – presumably from the port cask. On the nose: like a freshly baked jam sponge cake. Vanilla and strawberry jam are immense, right of the bat, with thick, creamy custard alongside. Only once that settles can you find some fairly fruity, youthful whisky underneath: grassy, esters – very much like new-make, but that could be down to the cask as much as the age. Malted milk biscuits. Straw. Mossy. Quite a lot of minerality.
In the mouth: again, a lot of flavour for the ABV, but exactly the same as the nose. Jammy, plum-like. Viscous – such a thick, tannic mouth-feel. A little pepper, maybe cinnamon. There’s a lot of malt and fruity young spirit underneath it all. Once the rush of cake-filling dies back there are traces of black tea. It’s a very unusual whisky – I actually quite like it. It is a bit like heading to a tea room at 3pm – quiet time – for a slice of cake and a cup of English Breakfast tea. It’s characterful, calm, soothing.
Were these offered to you in a blind tasting you’d say they were pretty decent – and for me they are of a similar standard, and depending on my mood I think the Port finish has the edge. But when you factor in the cost, you have to say that you’re getting something very good. I don’t want to get carried away here. This is not, clearly, ancient Macallan or premier cru Bruichladdich. But for your whisky punter who cannot afford grander bottles so easily, this is money well spent. I’ll say it again: this is decent single malt whisky that will cost you less than £25. These two are better than many whiskies at twice, even three times the price.
The only question remains does have the whiff of a conspiracy theory about it: is Glen Moray just providing exceptional value, or are other distilleries deliberately charging you way too much for your whisky?
I’ll leave that one up to you…